Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I had an opportunity to go on Inside Olympia with Austin Jenkins on February 2 to discuss what state lawmakers can do to grow jobs and spur the economy. You can watch the piece here or by clicking on the picture to the right. Please let me know if you have any thoughts or feedback.
Legislation Moving Forward
House Bill 2607, a bill I co-sponsored, passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee this week! Functionally, this legislation would align the current two-year operating budget with a six-year operating budget projection – instead of the typical two years. We have found that decisions that are made with a two-year perspective can be detrimental to the structural soundness of the budget. Currently, our state has a $1.5 billion budget shortfall and even with the governor's tax increase proposals, a structural deficit is projected to occur. This bill would rectify some of these problems, as it forces the Legislature to understand state finances and plan better for the future. It is about accountability and fiscal responsibility.
Positive economic signs are surfacing nationally, which should help our community and eventually get Washington back to work. Consumer spending is up 2 percent, in addition to 2.8 percent GDP growth, according to the latest edition of The Economist magazine. The unemployment rate in Spokane County is still holding firm at 9 percent.
Another one of my bills, House Bill 2533, calls upon the Legislature to Fund Education First. This legislation would fundamentally reform the way our state does its budgeting. I am sad to say this bill died in committee this week. While it could be revived in budget negotiations, it does not appear that the political will exists that I had hoped for. I remain convinced that every child deserves an excellent education and our state needs to make this a priority. To learn more about Fund Education First, click here.
Spokane's Four-year Medical School
There is no new news to report. The school has currently been placed within a bond bill which is not financially sound at this time. However, this is only the 3rd inning of a 9-inning game and we are working on strengthening this legislation to bring in the second half of the funding for this important project. The bill in its current status would take 25 years to pay off the bonds and increase our debt payments to 7 percent of state revenue – nearly twice the national average of most states (debt capacity around 3.5 percent). I will keep you apprised as we progress to a final bill.
The Association of Washington Business reports that 1,410 new rules and regulations for businesses were adopted in 2011, despite the governor's executive order that suspended non-critical rule making for businesses. I was able to confirm this statistic with our state's non-partisan staff. Estimates from the National Federation of Independent Business and other business groups place the cost per employee between $10,000 and $14,000. As it becomes more expensive to hire people, it becomes less likely for businesses to grow. Sadly, a higher number of business owners say they have no intention of growing their businesses further and additional rules, regulations and escalating costs are the core reasons mentioned.
Who Visited the Capitol This Week?
We had many visitors from Spokane this week, but I want to highlight one in particular. Matthew is a 10-year-old boy who is bravely battling a disease that will likely take his life far too soon. He was in his wheelchair when I met him and I was immediately struck by his spirit, strength and confidence. People often ask what the hardest part of this job is. This job is deeply personal in that I meet many people who graciously invite me into their lives and allow me to be their friend, and sometimes this happens in times of great pain and struggle. Matthew is a reminder that in a time when it is easy to be divisive, Abraham Lincoln's model of “with malice toward none, with charity for all” has rarely been more important than now in our everyday ordinary moments of life.
Town Hall Meetings Next Week
I will be hosting two town hall meetings next week. The first event will be a telephone town hall meeting on the evening of Wednesday, February 15. The community conversation, which is like a call-in radio show, will run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. To join in, please call 1-877-229-8493 and enter 15438. Once connected, you can ask me questions by pressing *3 (star 3) on your telephone keypads.
I will also be holding a quarterly, traditional town hall meeting on Saturday, February 18, from 11:00 a.m. to noon. The event will be held in the multipurpose room at Ridgeview Elementary School located at 5610 North Maple Street in Spokane. The doors will open at 10:30 a.m.
I hope you can join one or both events.
We will talk again soon.
421 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
360-786-7922 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000